Debra Jo Rupp – Mary Helperman
Wallace Shawn – Principal Crosby Strickler
Jerry Stiller – Pretty Boy
David Ogden Stiers – Mr. Jolly
This is the story of a boy, nerdy Leonard (Shaun Fleming), and his dog, Spot (Nathan Lane). However, Spot was a unique dog in that he was tired of being just a dog. So, when Leonard started 4th grade, Spot decided to dress up as a human and became Scott Leadready II. He joined Leonard’s class at Fala D. Roosevelt Elementary School (named for Franklyn D. Roosevelt’s dog) and became extremely popular as the smartest, most athletic, and coolest. Leonard discovers Spot’s ruse but is convinced to go along with it—often landing him in trouble.
Spot wasn’t the only pet in the Helperman household. There was also Pretty Boy (Jerry Stiller), a bossy big-mouthed canary with a Napoleon complex, and Mr. Jolly (David Ogden Stiers), an overweight and cowardly cat. The matriarch of the family was Mary Helperman (Debra Jo Rupp), who also happened to be Leonard and “Scott’s” teacher which sometimes helped to enhance Leonard’s embarrassment. Other characters included Ian Wazselewski (Rob Paulson), the class weirdo who enjoyed doing gross things; Leslie Dunkling (Mae Whitman), the Helperman’s next door neighbor and Leonard’s class crush who was often nice to him despite her well-to-do upbringing and popularity (although she favored Scott more); Tyler, Trevor and Taylor (all Pamela Adlon), three of the coolest kids in the school who were friendly with Scott but barely tolerated Leonard; fraternal twins Chelsey and Kelsey (both Cree Summer), who were both popular and competitive with each other and were secret admirers of Scott’s; Younghee Mandlebom (Lauren Tom), Leslie’s best friend who was often mean to Leonard despite having a crush on him; and Crosby Strickler (Wallace Shawn), the school principal who hated dogs after one bit off part of his finger as a kid. Strickler also had a pet; a cat named Tallulah (Tress MacNeille) who acted sweet in his presence but was a terror to others.
Teacher’s Pet debuted on ABC as part of the One Saturday Morning programming block on September 9, 2000. It was created by artist Gary Baseman, who pondered the concept that his dog, Hubcaps, would put on clothes and lead a whole other life while he was out at work. Baseman developed the show with Bill and Cheri Steinkellner, pitching it to Disney who picked it up. Episodes were typically broken up into two plots: the main plot following Leonard and Spot’s adventures at school with Spot constantly trying to keep his identity a secret, and Mr. Jolly and Pretty Boy getting into mischief back home. The majority of the episodes featured a single story, but several were broken up into two segments.
It was written by the Steinkellners and Baseman along with Ford Riley, Laura McCreary, Michael Price, Jim Patterson, Steve Leff, Cade Chilcoat, David Maples, Nicholas Hope, Jessie Jones, Mark Steen, Nanclee Myatt, Patrick Gleeson, Billiam Coronel, Jim Staahl, Jim Fisher, John Reynolds, Mike Samonek and Jess Winfield, with Maples serving as the story editor. Animation duties were handled Wang Film Productions Company and Toon City Animation, Inc. The theme was composed by Brian Woodbury and Peter Lurye and performed by the cast, with Stephen James Taylor supplying the rest of the music. Teacher’s Pet looked different from other Disney productions due to the fact that the character designs by Marc Perry and Kim Roberson adhered closely to Baseman’s own art style. Baseman also served as the series’ art director.
The series ran for two seasons. In January of 2002, new episodes began airing concurrently on Toon Disney as part of the @Toon and Magical World of Toons programming blocks. That February, new episodes moved exclusively to Toon Disney while reruns continued to air on ABC until One Saturday Morning became ABC Kids in September. Lane, who had just landed a role in the Mel Brooks musical The Producers, had to leave the show while the season was in production resulting in his understudy, Kevin Schon, taking over as Spot for 6 episodes. However, as the episodes were aired out of production order, Lane’s performance still appeared between Schon’s. Teacher’s Pet was a critical darling, garnering good reviews and winning several Daytime Emmy Awards and a BAFTA, along with three Annie Awards nominations. However, critical praise doesn’t often equate to ratings and the show struggled to find a sizable audience.
After the pilot episode was completed, it was decided that a film extension should be ready to hit theaters when the series hit its peak popularity. By the time it was realized that the show would never have a peak, the film was already written. Disney, however, liked the show and allowed production on the film to continue. Teacher’s Pet: The Movie had a much wider scope than the series proper, taking the characters on a road trip and out of the classroom. It was released on January 16, 2004, written by the Steinkellners, directed by regular series director Timothy Bjӧrklund, and featured a tribute to Hubcaps who died during production. It also had Lane returning to the role of Spot. The film served as the series finale, resolving many of the show’s ongoing storylines including Spot’s desire to be human. Originally, it was planned to be left open for future installments, but given the reception of the series that idea was changed. That proved to be a smart idea as the film performed about as well as the show, earning only $6.5 million against its $10 million budget. It was the last film to be based off of a One Saturday Morning program, and the last Disney film based on one of their shows to date.
Teacher’s Pet was broadcast around the world in various languages, primarily on offshoots of the Disney Channel. To date, only the film has seen release on home media on both VHS and DVD by Disney Home Entertainment. It was also made available to stream on Amazon Prime Video. In 2019, the film became one of the launch titles of the streaming service Disney+, with the rest of the series following soon after.
“The Movie” (1/16/04) – Spot decides he wants to become human for real and discovers a mad scientist that can make it happen.